The Colonial Cemetery in Happy Valley, Hong Kong was opened in January 1845 following the closure of the Old Protestant Burial Ground at St. Francis’ Yard, Wanchai.
Hong Kong burial registers do not appear to have been kept until 1853 when the St. Johns register was started. The first entry on 2nd. January 1853 is numbered 800 with the second entry being 807 on 13th. January. Thenceforth, all burials were recorded whether or not they were performed by the Chaplain of St. Johns. On 29th. October 1855 Frederick Makee was buried and the service conducted by a Russian officer who was a prisoner of war. A year later a seaman was charged and fined forty shillings for conducting an unauthorised burial service. On 18th. January 1857 a Malayan seaman from the Brig “Tempo” was buried without the knowledge of either clergyman or sexton.
The St. John’s burial register continued to be the only record of burials until the 1880s, following which the task of recording was taken over by the Sanitary Board.
Over the years the monuments in the Old Protestant Burial Ground in Wanchai were vandalised or used in surrounding buildings. In 1889 a decision was taken to remove all the remaining monuments and place them together within the Colonial Cemetery. Some 48 monuments were saved.
The Great Storm of July 1889 wreaked havoc on the Colony and the Surveyor General reported:
On the morning of 29th. I was at the Peak, and such was the violence of the storm that (with some others who were staying at the Hotel) I had to wait a considerable time before the chair coolies would venture on the descent, owing to the force of the wind and rain. However, we started about 9am. I shall not readily forget the journey down. I followed the road as, all things considered, it appeared to me a preferable route to the tramway. Along the upper levels the gusts of wind threatened to carry us off the mountain path. During the descent the water rushed in sheets down the steep mountain slopes, the nullahs were full, and the side drains and culverts of the road overflowing. I arrived at the Government offices about 10 o’clock. ………….. Then began the most appalling thunderstorm within my own experience, or that, I venture to believe, of the majority of the residents in the Colony. For hours flash succeeded flash in rapid succession, and the roll of the thunder was almost uninterrupted, while the rain descended n masses. Several buildings were struck by lightning and six coolies were killed in a matshed at the Peak. …………….. The storm raged with greatest intensity between the hours of 1 and 5 am of the 30th.
Although more or less damage occurred in almost every street and road in the Colony the chief scenes of disaster were …………………….. 3) the heavy landslips which having their origin in the steep slopes above the Tytam Aqueduct, swept down the mountain side, carrying away the masonry of the Aqueduct itself in three places. In the case of the heaviest of these slips, the torrent carried the debris straight through the Public Cemetery and landed the greater part on the race course in Happy Valley below. …………………….. Mr. Cooper estimates that during the storm at least 30,000 cubic yards of earth were carried by these landslips across the line of the aqueduct. This included besides earth, a large proportion of huge granite boulders, dislodged from the mountain sides, some of them many tons in weight. After crossing the aqueduct the course of the principal landslips followed the ravines which traverse the Public Cemetery in the Happy Valley. The bridges and part of the boundary wall were destroyed, the bed of the nullah was choked and about 5,000 cubic yards of sand were carried through the Cemetery and deposited on the Race Course below, but fortunately not a single grave was in any way injured or disturbed.
In 1894 another violent typhoon hit the Colony but this time 20 monuments were damaged. In 1908 the Cemetery Chapel, Sexton’s quarters and Green House were damaged and in 1927 many gravestones had to be repaired after a vast amount of debris and silt cascaded down the mountainside. The cemetery survived – it might be said – “through hell and high water”.
The cemetery was fast filling up and by the 1960s little room was left. In 1961 over a hundred graves were exhumed, followed in 1970 by a further 460. But it was the mid 1970s that proved to be the most disquieting time for those laid to rest in the Hong Kong Cemetery. The construction of the Aberdeen Tunnel and associated approach roads meant that large chunks of the cemetery were to be lost. 920 civilian graves with monuments were moved to other locations in the cemetery, along with 262 graves relating to military personnel. A staggering 2,285 graves which had no monuments were to be exhumed and the remains placed in an ossuary which was to be built within the cemetery.
Fortunately my database of burials for the Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley includes details of most of these exhumations and repositionings – so “the dear departed” can still be found. If you would like me to check my Index of Hong Kong Burials & Inscriptions then please use the “Contact Us” tab at the top of this page.